“House of Cards” was the first of Netflix’s new gamble to “become HBO faster than they can be us.” Original programming isn’t a new idea, but devoting a big budget to create a product with high production value is rare. “Hemlock Grove” is the second (technically third if one counted “Lilyhammer”) Netflix series. Eli Roth, the director of the “Hostel” series and the Bear Jew from “Inglourious Basterds,” is the executive producer. It is based on a novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy.
The story is set in a small fictional town in Pennsylvania called Hemlock Grove. A young girl is brutally murdered and two very odd and interesting high school students find common ground. They attempt to find who killed the girl. Lots of creepy, mysterious things occur soon after. The show is reminiscent of “Twin Peaks” and the game “Alan Wake.” The main difference is that “Hemlock Grove” wholeheartedly embraces violence, gore and sex.
Before we dive deeper into the story, it’s worth noting how visually striking the show is. The town, Hemlock Grove, may not sound very aesthetically appealing, but there are interesting locations. One of the two guys is a gypsy who lives in a trailer in the woods while the other guy lives in a mansion with rooms that look as if they belong in a different era. The sepia tones during the day and the gray tones at night lend a more memorable feel to the visuals. Or it could just be because most scenes are so vague and unfulfilling that the visuals, in comparison, become interesting.
Pilot episodes are supposed to draw the audience into watching the rest of the episodes. The pilot episode of “Hemlock Grove” is filled with scenes that foreshadow mysteries without answering anything. Nothing really happens by the time the credits roll at the end of each episode. There’s a short scene at the end that I won’t spoil, but it seemed as if it was meant to be more exciting and clever than it actually was. If anything was exciting, it was the murder scene — not that murder scenes are awesome, but it is better than dozens of scenes with people giving looks or talking about something about which the audience is completely unaware.
The rest of the series largely follows the same format. The show is weird but not weird enough or not the right kind of weird. It tries to be campy yet serious, without ever deftly finding a balance between the two. The plot moves too slowly, and the actors don’t really do anything except give stale performances. There are parts that prove that there is potential to this show. For example, at one point one of the guys reveals himself to be a werewolf as his friends gawk in disgust and his mother looks on approvingly. It’s a bizarre scene, but it’s also kind of awesome. These moments are far too rare, though.
All 13 episodes of the first season of “Hemlock Grove” are available only on Netflix.com. Stay tuned next month for the third series produced by Netflix, “Arrested Development.” There probably won’t be an official Trinitonian review (we’ll all be drinking fine wine on the beach), but you should definitely watch it because it will be amazing. I am willing to bet all $10 of my paycheck on it.